It was, for the longest time, both an eyesore and a puzzle: Prime acreage along the downtown waterside that the city of Tampa used as an outdoor truck barn. But that land is poised to become the latest chapter in Tampa’s urban renewal with the city’s selection of a Miami-based developer to breathe new life into this historic community.
The city announced this month it had selected Related Urban Development Group to remake the so-called “Rome Yard,” an 18-acre parcel in West Tampa the city had used to store and maintain trucks and other equipment. Located between Rome Avenue and the Hillsborough River, and south of Columbus Drive, the tract is conveniently located minutes from downtown. And it’s coveted real estate, on a bluff overlooking the river as it winds downtown, with quick and easy access to Tampa International Airport, South Tampa and nearby Riverside and Seminole Heights.
Related envisions just what the city rightly called for — a mixed-use neighborhood of both affordable and market-rate housing, retail, “micro” space for local startups and a workforce training center, along with an amphitheater, great lawn and other amenities that define an urban lifestyle. The plans include a brick observation “cigar tower” to honor the cigar factories that were an indelible part of West Tampa’s Latin history. The company also will work with local historians on a cultural and arts center.
Related is a natural partner. It’s already a major player in Tampa’s development boom, playing a leading role in the nearly $350 million remake of Tampa’s West River area, just south of the Rome Yard parcel. The city and the company have an established working relationship and a shared interest in building a quality community. City officials said the company would likely exceed the city’s targets for affordable units, and Related is committed to $75 million in contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses. There also is the opportunity here to bring a seamless connection between the Rome Yard and the West River, creating a catalyst for more residential and commercial development to the west. A company official, Peter Van Warner, sent the right message at the outset by promising to build “a resilient, sustainable hub” that will lift this area “for many generations to come.”
The good news is a credit to the vision and follow-through of two mayors who saw the value of the yard and held out for high expectations. Former Mayor Bob Buckhorn solicited proposals late in his term, but pulled back soon before leaving office in 2019 to let incoming Mayor Jane Castor put her imprint on the project. Castor wisely pushed ahead even while dealing with the pandemic, sending a strong vote of confidence in Tampa’s economy and growing appeal.
There are many lessons here that should be guiding principles for the city as this project unfolds and as other redevelopment opportunities appear — about the need for patience and resolve, about involving minority communities with a vested stake in these projects, about using developments as building blocks to remake entire neighborhoods. The success of this project, of course, will hinge on many things, from character and quality to scale. But it’s an exciting concept that’s been a long time coming.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.